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Can the church help people find meaning in their work?

Can the church help people find meaning in their work?

Lay people are eager to make their working lives more rewarding, says a recent study by the Barna Group, but the church is not providing much in the way of direction.

According to recent research on vocation and calling:

… three-quarters of U.S. adults (75%) say they are looking for ways to live a more meaningful life. Whether such meaning is found in family, career, church, side projects or elsewhere, these are all questions of vocation—that is, the way in which people feel “called” to certain types of work and life choices. And in 2014, these questions remain as strong as ever for millions of Americans

Among Christians, there is an additional question: “What does God want me to do with my life?” According to Barna Group’s study, only 40% of practicing Christians say they have a clear sense of God’s calling on their lives. Christian Millennials are especially sensitive to this divine prompting—nearly half (48%) say they believe God is calling them to different work, yet they haven’t yet made such a change.

Sermons are commonly preached on evangelism, discipleship, and spiritual disciplines—but what about vocation? It turns out that most churchgoers are craving more direction and discipleship when it comes to the theology of calling, especially as it relates to work. Barna research shows nearly two-thirds of churched adults say it has been at least three years or more since they heard church teachings on work and career, and yet, the workplace is where most Americans spend a the biggest share of their waking hours.

Is the church equipped to help people find more meaning in their work? How should it do so?


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Is the church equipped? Maybe. There are certainly resources in Christian tradition. However we tend not to admit the importance of money in determining what one can do, and for most jobs meaning isn’t in the work itself. Take my work for example. My current job gobbles up at least 55 hours a week between the paid hours, lunch, and the commute leaving relatively little time for anything else, but the job isn’t the sort of thing that will make the world a better place or advance the kingdom. (I’m a software developer/engineer and my current job is helping to build a piece of software that makes sure sales people get paid correct commissions.) For me, meaning is found in myself and how I behave towards my work and coworkers with an eye towards Benedictine and general monastic spirituality, but the local church provides precious little support for that.

Jonathan Galliher

David O'Rourke

Is the church equipped to do so? Yes. Is it doing it for those who are not on the holy orders path? Not really.

I just went through the discernment process in my Diocese, and spent over a year working with a wonderful discernment committee. This led me to postulancy, so my path is pretty much laid out for me.

What came to mind throughout the process was that while the focus was on my discernment process, there was so much in it that could have benefited everyone else involved. One idea is for parishes to have standing discernment committees that work with anyone who wants to participate to explore questions like the ones that came out in the Barna survey.

For some it might lead to the holy orders process, but for everyone, hopefully a better understanding of our ministry as lay people.

Judith Miller

Two things come to mind: there are so many activities in a typical (smallish) parish that focus on any one of them, by any ‘critical’ mass of people doesn’t happen. Akin to organizational ADD.

Second, the words “ministry” and “laity” together are used to say “volunteer activity in the parish or diocese”. Ministry is still a clergy identified word.

Ann Fontaine

Sadly Judith – my experience says you are correct. If one is not ordained one is pretty much of no value in the church. One’s ministry is not valued (see pay for instance) and there is almost no commitment to one’s continued service.

Judith Miller

By and large I’d say no. Having been a lay COM member through most of the 80’s and the Total Ministry movement, little progress has been made.

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